Saturday, June 2, 2018

Annihilation Review: A Conflicting Sci-fi Film

Every now and again there comes a movie that shakes things up. Whether it is a big time blockbuster or something independent one film tends to pop up during the year and get people talking. A cased point of this would be the 2015 sleeper hit Ex Machina. The sci-fi film directed by Alex Garland arrived on the scene in the spring of 2015 and received a massive reception from critics and moviegoers a like. Now two years later it seems that Garland is at it again with his latest contribution to the sci-fi genre: Annihilation. Annihilation is based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer and Garland wrote the story for the screen. The movie is now playing in theater and it appears that lightning has struck twice for Mr.Garland as Annihilation has been a critical hit. With the film garnering so much praise my curiosity was peaked and I decided to see this new sci-fi film for myself. My experience with Annihilation was a bit different from the majority as found myself indifferent about the new sci-fi movie.

Annihilation tells the story of Lena (Natalie Portman) a biologist who joins three women on a mission to a excavate the quarantine zone known as the shimmer-which contains a mutated environment that is as deadly as it is fascinating. Conceptually speaking the story of Annihilation is sound as it featured engaging elements worthy of any sci-fi tale. However the way the movie went about delivering this story is where I find myself at odds with Annihilation. The main plot is fairly straightforward and easy enough to get into. However elements likes Lena’s backstory as well as Lena conveying the events to a group of scientists were not handled well as these factors just took me out of the story. Rather than adding to the plot these aspects came off as contrived and it made the movie’s narrative feel very sporadic. Furthermore the thematic elements to the story, although ambitious, were a bit lackluster. It felt like the themes were trying to be thought provoking, but they were not fully explored within the story itself and because of this they just come off as minute details. The plot was by no means boring (although the pace could be slow at times) as I was interested to see how things would play out and this certainly made up for the plot’s lack of substance.

The cast of Annihilation was a small one and there was nothing wrong with that. However, much like the story, the biggest problem in the cast was its execution.While had its merits the character themselves were not that interesting. Lena was effective as her thorough development was decent and Natalie Portman did a fine job in the role. Aside from her though the other principal characters were simply lackluster. Whether it was Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen or Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek the characters had little impact on the presentation and they had little development together to be a coherent group. The supporting cast provided some help to the movie. The performance of Oscar Isaac as Lena’s husband, Kane, was effective by giving support to Portman’s character and giving some flare to the cast. This cast was one that relied on having a strong lead and it certainly had one, but this reliance also hurt the movie as it showed the film’s ensemble had little to offer.

In Ex Machina Alex Garland showed that he had a keen sense for visual effects as the film's blend of practical and cg effects was stunning to say the least. It was good to see Annihilation follow in the footsteps of its kin as the effects were stellar. Some effects were better than others but for the most part the visuals were efficient as they molded a realistic world into a surreal one. Along with the definitive effects was the cinematography by Rob Hardy. The contrasting colors proved to be useful as it gave the movie a standout look worthy of any sci-fi film. The music by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow was also a highlight as its unique compositions created a score that was as ambitious as the film itself.

This one is certainly a conundrum. On one hand Annihilation is a stylish film that brings a unique perspective to the world of sci-fi. However the movie’s need to be clever hurts in vital areas such as story and characters leaving it with a lackluster execution. I cannot not fault Annihilation for being ambitious but its conflicting presentation left this Film Adventurer scratching my head in more ways than one.

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